Put the Blame on Bibi

What we referred to over the years as the “cold peace” with Egypt was an agreement with a dictatorial regime and not with the Egyptian people. Now that the regime is gone, who knows what will be the fate of that agreement?


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on September 13, 2011.)

Whether it was the fire that burned Chicago down, the Manhattan blizzard or the earthquake in San Francisco, you could put the blame on Mame, according to glamorous Rita Hayworth in that famous movie, “Gilda.” Whether it is the bombastic anti-Israel theatrics of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan or the recent gratuitous criticism of Israeli policy by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, you can put the blame on Bibi, Israel’s prime minister, according to Israel’s opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, and the left-leaning media.

And it may not take long before the blame for the tearing down of the Israeli flag and the invasion of the Israeli Embassy by fanatic crowds in Cairo will also be laid at his door.

Israelis did not need to read the conclusions of the UN commission that investigated the Mavi Marmara affair to know that Israel was fully justified in enforcing a blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and taking over the Turkish ship that tried to reach the Gaza Strip. In total disregard of the fact that the Turkish government had agreed to the establishment of the commission, and that it included a Turkish representative, Erdogan rejected its conclusions, launching vituperative attacks on Israel and threatening Jerusalem with drastic punishment if it did not apologize forthwith.

And voices have been heard in Israel that Jerusalem should apologize. Using the meaningless adage, “Better to be smart than just,” they faulted Benjamin Netanyahu for not bowing to Erdogan’s ultimatum. Such an Israeli apology would probably have brought forth some gloating on the part of Erdogan for having brought Israel to its knees, but it would not have had any chance of inducing a fundamental change in the anti-Israel policy adopted by that Islamist leader long before the Mavi Marmara incident.

The improvement in Israel-Turkey relations in recent years was important for Israel, but no less so for Turkey too. The flow of Israeli defense technology to the Turkish armed forces has brought about a substantial modernization of the Turkish army, which today is in much better shape than it was some years ago. Erdogan evidently feels that Turkey has already got all it needs out of the relationship and that he can now capitalize on his hostility toward Israel so as to attempt to attain a leadership position in the Muslim world. In the meantime, no one should hold his breath waiting for a Turkish apology for the crimes committed against the Armenians or for their suppression of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

As for Robert Gates, the former U.S. secretary of defense, he never belonged to that long line of American leaders such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Alexander Haig and George Shultz, who admired Israel for its courage and fortitude and who believed that the U.S.-Israel relationship was of mutual benefit. He belongs to that small circle that sees in Israel a small country that is pushing its weight around Washington, is getting more American assistance than it deserves, and should be grateful and take its marching orders from the U.S. capital.

That is at the root of his criticism, deliberately leaked to the press, of Israel’s prime minister. That some Israelis applaud his words is really hard to believe. National honor and pride may not be worth much nowadays, but it still has a place in the national ethos, in Israel and the United States.

Those who have been watching the goings-on in Tahrir Square in recent months should not have been overly surprised by the crowds demonstrating in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, the tearing down of the Israeli flag, and finally the invasion of the embassy itself. What we referred to over the years as the “cold peace” with Egypt was an agreement with a dictatorial regime and not with the Egyptian people. Now that the regime is gone, who knows what will be the fate of that agreement?

It was Moshe Dayan who in an unfortunate utterance once said, “Better Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.” We may yet be left without Sharm al-Sheikh and without peace with Egypt.

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